The introduction begins by reflecting on how we look at the English writing system and how we think about language, culture, and community. It then explains why the idea of the modern state as an artefact of writing is central to the book. Taking issue with Goody, Watt, McLuhan, and Anderson, all of whom associated the Europeanized modern ‘nation-state’ with the ‘Western’ writing system and/or its traditions of print, it shifts the focus of attention to constitution-making and to the questions Tagore raised about the state’s capacity to grasp human difference. The last sections explain why the book is an exercise in intellectual as well as institutional history, why it is wary about the traditions of literary criticism that have dominated the academy in Europe and America for the past forty years, and why it has a capacious historical and geographical range.
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